[W]orking out custody between parents is never easy. If you can’t come to an agreement between you, which many can’t, you often need to turn to a judge to make the decision for you. However, this means giving up a level of control and putting the future of your relationship with your children at least partly in someone else’s hands. Going through a custody case can be frightening, and there can be a lot of other strong emotions to deal with. Even though it’s an emotional time, arming yourself with the facts and strategies is the best thing you can do if you want to make sure you can play a part in your children’s lives. Here are some of the things you need to understand before you get into a courtroom.
Your Local Custody Laws
Just like the law in many other areas, custody law varies from state to state. There will be slightly different rules about what parents and children are entitled to and what factors determine the rights of each parent. Fortunately, if you hire an attorney, they will have expert knowledge of the local laws. Maples Family Law can explain child custody in California to you and are familiar with the ins and outs of the court system in the state. The right lawyer will help you to understand how a judge will come to a decision about custody and what you need to do to show that it’s right for your child to spend time with you.
Creating Your Own Custody Agreement
Not all parents disagree about child custody arrangements. Some are able to come to an agreement together and will create a visitation schedule and some other rules about who gets to make decisions. If you can make a decision together, you don’t need to go through a court case. However, you still might be required to go before a judge so that they can approve the agreement you have set out. This is so that the judge can turn it into a court order, which makes the things you have decided on legally enforceable. This might not be essential everywhere, so check with your lawyer.
Key Factors about Custody – Legal and Physical Custody
Understanding the difference between legal and physical custody is one of the important things you need to do when facing a custody case. Both of them are important when you are working out what each parent will be entitled to. Legal custody relates to decision making. If you have legal custody, you get to make decisions about things such as your child’s school or medical care. Of course, if you have shared legal custody, it’s best if you can make some decisions together. However, you can each make choices for your child alone, without the approval of the other parent.
Physical custody is about where the child lives. If physical custody is joint, the child will split their time between the two parents, although it usually is not 50/50. Sole physical custody likewise doesn’t mean that the child will never see one parent, but it does mean that the majority of the decisions will be determined by one parent.
Sole Custody vs Joint Custody
Sole custody and joint custody are also essential to understand, especially as a judge could award sole physical custody but joint legal custody. If one parent is awarded sole custody, they have responsibility for the child for the majority of the time. They might have the child living with them, with the other parent getting visitation if they have sole physical custody. If they have sole legal custody, only they get to make decisions for the child. On very rare occasions, one parent might not receive visitation for the child, but this is usually only in the case of domestic violence, abuse or neglect. Talk to your attorney about the specifics as all of these terms can be used in some courts interchangeably.
Temporary Custody Orders
If you feel that your child is currently in danger, or the other parent feels the same, it might be possible to apply for a temporary custody order. These can be used in emergency situations if you believe that your child is being physically or emotionally abused or something else might be happening to damage their health and happiness. A temporary custody order could also be used if you think your child will be removed from the state and you want to ensure they can’t leave. A judge can make the decision to issue a temporary custody order if they think there are grounds to do so.
Note: Some divorce proceedings also start with temporary custody order prior to your final hearing.
What Affects Custody Decisions
Understanding what factors can influence a judge’s decision in a custody case will help you and your lawyer to build a better argument. The judge has to make a decision about what is best for the child, which means they need to think about a range of things that will affect their health and happiness. They will consider a child’s age, health, relationship with each parent, the behavior, and history of each parent, and the child’s ties to their school and the local community. While some people think that mothers are automatically favored in custody cases, the truth is that it’s the primary caregiver who is more likely to get majority custody. And, although parenting is much more equal than it used to be, this is still often the mother.
Changing a Custody Order
In the future, you might wish to make a change to a custody order. It’s important to recognize that a custody order can be changed, so it’s not set in stone forever. Both parents might come to a decision together about a change to their custody agreement, or one parent might want to make a request for a change. To get a custody order legally changed, you need to return to court to ensure it’s official. It’s useful to know about the process for changing a court order, even if you’re happy with the agreement you have now.
Making sure that you’re knowledgeable about custody matters will put you in a better position if you want to make sure you have custody of your children. A good lawyer can help you understand all you need to know.
Contributed post. Feature image via The Blue Diamond Gallery.